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October 03, 2022

NUMMI Apocalypse

By Bernie Pilarski

We all knew the end of the automotive industry in California was coming. The Mayans, whose calendar predicts the world will end on 12/12/2012, had already penciled in the event for 12.19.17.4.3 8 'Ak'bal' 1 Wayeb [G2] (thanks to Gregorian-Mayan Calendar for the Mayan coordinates). Nostradamus also saw it, as is clearly indicated in one of his famous quatrains:

By calm waters with dead fish smells,
The wormhole dirt conspires to close.
Maidens washing, buckets in wells,
Fires, floods, gloom, despair and woes.

In the last line of the quatrain Nostradamus cleverly sets the time of the "wormhole closure" in the context of other concurrent events -- the economic meltdown, the election of Barack Obama, and Tiger Woods' return to golf.

Even my Uncle Bob twenty-five years ago prophetically, although less eloquently, said, "No $@##! Jap car @&** foreigners *^$^# in this good ole U.S, of A! No %$@* way."

None the less, for the past fifteen years, I have been a part of NUMMI, the auto assembly plant in California that closed for good this past week, and to no one's surprise, I have a few observations on the event.

The auto industry is a tough industry. It is a volume driven business. There is a lot of pressure to build as many cars as possible, and there is a reliance on overtime to do that. Some overtime, assuming it produces more product than is otherwise possible, is a good thing. It absorbs fixed costs, which are huge in the auto industry. Problem is that overtime can also be a way of covering up problems, adding time and cost to the operation with no increase in production, and that's a bad thing. Sometimes managers don't seem to be able to make the distinction and instead of solving problems, they simply throw overtime at it.

Overtime is a short term fix for problems, a patch. Overuse of the patch brings about problems of its own. Assembly work is hard work, repetitive work that wears down the body. Everyone I worked with who had been in the plant more than a few years was hurt. The vast majority worked through the pain. Ibuprofen was the pain killer of choice -- 800 mgs at a time, three times a day. That's usually a "prescription only" dosage, but after the first couple times the company doctor tells you that's what you can take, you just go ahead and take the non-prescription pills in larger quantities. You need it to deal with the bad knees, necks, backs and hands.

It's true that not that all of the managers were bad and unsympathetic, just as it is true that not all the people who were hurt and collecting Workers' Comp payments were all that hurt. Some of them knew how to use the system for a free ride. I don't suppose that surprises anybody.

Personally, although my knees have taken a whack and my back isn't what it used to be, I haven't fared too badly physically. For me the damage has been spiritually.

In addition to the overtime, I have had a daily commute that added about three hours to my day. In part that was my choice because I liked where I live, and in part because I could not afford reasonable housing in the Bay Area (I know, I know, my "reasonable" may not really be reasonable, but then neither is the $600,000 plus average price for homes in the area around NUMMI). The result is that my normal day was usually 12 hours worth of working and driving. Since I worked second shift, that brought me home around three or four in the morning, not exactly a time of great activity in my household. While everyone else slept, I snacked, watched some TV, or surfed the web for another hour or so. Into the remaining ten hours, I slept, showered, had lunch with my wife and got ready for work.

I don't blame anyone else. It's a tough industry. It was my choice to live where I do. But that's what I did, five, frequently six days a week. There wasn't much left over for anything else. There wasn't much "quality" time with my wife and family. There was even less time for friendships that meant a great deal to me. And over the years, I prayed less and less. It takes some effort to pray, and usually I was tired. It was easier to sit mindlessly in front of the TV, or easier still to let my brain drop pointlessly into the web.

Writing is part of my prayer, something I do for God. I've been largely unproductive there too for all the same reasons. I had become largely one dimensional.

I am sorry for the disruption that Nummi's closing brings into people's lives, especially for the younger people who are in the middle of raising families, but I cannot be anything but excited. I have almost the identical feeling that I had the day after I asked Sand to marry me and she unexpectedly and inexplicably said yes. I didn't have a job then, either, and no money to speak of, and had no idea what the future held, but it felt very right. I trusted that God knew what he was doing.

I'm getting the opportunity to start over. Imagine that. Go ahead, imagine that. I have the opportunity to discover again what had made my life worth living -- friends, family, my wife, God. I don't have a job, don't know what the future holds, but it feels right. As Nostradamus said:

Rocks fall from the sky, pigs squeal,
The princes of the east pull their pants down.
Hoochies in spandex lack sex appeal,
And more often than not, we work for a clown.

Fortunately for Nostradamus, he lived in the time before random on the job drug testing.

Article © Bernie Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-04-05
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